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White Tiger

Four years ago, I reported on my first visit to a unique project called “Tiger Canyon” in South Africa. This concept is more relevant than ever – I am happy to quote Sir David Attenborough in his 2020 film “A Life On Our Planet”: “To restore stability to our planet, we must restore biodiversity. The very thing we removed. It’s the only way out of this crisis we’ve created. We must rewild the world.” Tiger Canyon is pursuing this exact approach with the idea of giving the extremely endangered tiger (only around 4,000 animals remain in the wild) a new habitat.

The white tiger is neither a man-made creation nor a separate subspecies of tiger. It is a rare recessive gene that occurred naturally in wild tiger populations centuries ago. The term used to describe the white coat is leucism, or leucitism, and refers to a tiger that is born with a white coat and light blue or green eyes. Leucism is caused by a specific gene and triggers a faded form of the actual coat colors (so it is not an albino animal that has no skin pigmentation). 

There are currently (March 2024) no documented wild white tigers left in Asia. They were all hunted in the 1950s and have never been seen or documented in the wild again. The only white tigers left are kept in captivity in zoos, which means they have been bred in captivity over a period of more than 70 years. From a genetic point of view, this is not a natural and healthy situation and probably not sustainable.

In addition to 8 normal colored tigers, Tiger Canyon is currently home to the only two wild white tigers in the world. Tigress TiBo was born wild in Tiger Canyon at the end of 2009. She is descended from reintroduced, normal-colored parents who carried the white gene. Her mother was a normal-colored Tigress who came from a zoo in Canada. Her father was a normal-colored tiger from a breeding station in South Africa. Both obviously carried the white recessive gene. TiBo is therefore the result of outbred tigers and a very successful wild-born and wild-raised tigress. Her white fur seems to be no disadvantage in the huge grass fields of the light beige savannah of their African homeland. TiBo is a dominant tigress who has already given birth to 2 litters of cubs and is an excellent defender of her territory.

Her daughter, Mishka, is another white tigress in Tiger Canyon who lives completely self-sufficiently in a 15 square kilometer, remote and rugged part of the reserve. She is the animal in my image “White Tiger”. She is already the second generation of wild-born and wild-living white tigers in Tiger Canyon. A fantastic hunter, she defends her territory from other tigers and will also mate on her own when the time is right.

I was overwhelmed by her grace and never thought that the mere presence of a big cat would once again captivate me as extraordinarily as it did the moment I saw her approaching me. I couldn’t take my eyes off her. As always, I was focused on her attention – but when I “captured” her in this picture-perfect portrait pose, I knew this was my picture! Freedom and agility, paired with the steely gaze of a silent huntress in the morning sun, seem almost dreamlike and unreal to me – “White Tiger”!

My trip to the only two wild white tigers in the world